Religion

Elevation Church’s annual report shows more growth, but leaves out key details

Elevation Church's newest campus in Ballantyne, near the intersection of Lancaster Highway and Johnston Road. It’s the broadcast center for the fast-growing Charlotte church.
Elevation Church's newest campus in Ballantyne, near the intersection of Lancaster Highway and Johnston Road. It’s the broadcast center for the fast-growing Charlotte church. dhinshaw@charlotteobserver.com

A 2016 annual report from Charlotte’s Elevation Church showed continued growth in attendance, revenue and social media reach last year. But the three-part report, which was posted Friday and promoted at Sunday’s worship services, appeared to leave out key information, such as who now sits on the church’s board of overseers and how the group determines Pastor Steven Furtick’s salary.

And what was the average weekly collection in 2016? Such details have been included in some of the church’s past annual reports.

The accent in the latest report was on growth and expansion.

Elevation, already one of the fastest-growing evangelical churches in America, continued to open new locations last year, most notably in Ballantyne and Rock Hill. And it saw its average weekly attendance grow by 18 percent in 2016 – to 22,036 people.

Its overall revenue jumped from $41.3 million in 2015 to $47.1 million last year.

Also included in the report’s avalanche of numbers were increases of 256 percent in YouTube subscribers (to a total of 146,120), 95 percent in Instagram followers (to 163,077), 87 percent in Facebook followers (to 193,411) and 25 percent in Twitter followers (to 113,083).

In a video for “annual report weekend” that was shown during the church’s Sunday’s services, or “worship experiences,” Elevation Chief Financial Officer Chunks Corbett talked up the money the church gave to charities last year ($5.7 million) and has given to them since the church’s founding ($25.8 million).

But Elevation officials did not return phone calls, texts and emails from the Observer regarding questions about what is in – and not in – the report.

For example: Why no mention of the church’s board of overseers? In Elevation’s 2011 annual report, the members – Furtick and five out-of-town megachurch pastors – were identified. There was also an explanation of how a salary study performed by an independent CPA firm came up with a basic salary range for Furtick and how committee members other than the Elevation pastor voted on his salary.

Lack of transparency in Elevation’s governing style has become an issue because at most churches, pastors’ salaries are determined by a board of local members. Some congregations even vote on their pastor’s salary.

Also a detail in past annual reports from Elevation, but not in the one for 2016, was how much congregants contributed, on average, every week. In Elevation’s 2012 report, the total was $391,299. In 2015, church officials said that weekly total has grown to just shy of $500,000.

As much as the church collects, the annual report roll-out Sunday had the markings of a fund-raiser. During the video presentation, an online GIVE box appeared on the screen. And two hosts welcoming those who were live-streaming the worship experience urged them to investigate giving options.

The video, which featured Corbett going over the annual report with staffers and members of the church’s expansion team, was filled with upbeat images of baptisms and hugs. Those sitting around the table spoke less about finances than about God’s blessings and the church’s “cutting edge approach to ministry.” Added one participant: “I’m still saying ‘Wow.’ 

All the hoopla aside, Elevation’s numbers are the envy of other churches at a time when many of them are struggling to grow even a little bit. Elevation has also become one of Charlotte’s most racially diverse churches, and it remains popular with millennials – a group many aging churches have trouble attracting.

New Yorkers Francisco and Maggie Rivera stay connected to Charlotte's Elevation Church online.

Elevation even has a growing international following via the internet.

Last year, according to the report, Elevation baptized 1,258 people, signed up 7,357 volunteers, held services at 14 locations in three states and had a weekly TV viewership for its preaching in the U.S. and abroad of 555,558.

Among the charities it contributed to last year: Crisis Assistance Ministry ($110,000), Samaritan’s Purse ($100,000), Prison Fellowship ($100,000), Urban Ministry Center ($65,000), Charlotte Rescue Mission ($60,000) and Steve Smith Foundation ($35,000).

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